The Japanese attacked Midway Island in June 1942. They were were soundly defeated a defeat that was later considered the turning point in the Pacific War. Japan lost a large portion of their fleet from which they never really recovered. But, in the early part of 1943, we were not aware of this as we were escortied a convoy of ships to Midway Atoll from Pearl Harbor - a distance of approximately 1,000 miles. We had several troop transports in our convoy bringing replacement Marines to relieve those who had done such a wonderful job in protecting and defending the island.
After the rains and winds passed over, inspection crews come out to examine our ship. They felt that it was salvageable. They might not have if escort ships were not in such dire need. Some of the holes were patched with concrete but our propellers, steering gear and sonar equipment were either completely ripped off or very badly damaged. After about a week of sitting in our
One of the troop transports had completed its mission at Midway and was ordered back to Pearl Harbor. It was decided to tie us to it and let the troop transport tow us back for repair. Another patrol craft was assigned to accompany us. After a couple of days in tow, the transport signaled us that their sonar had picked up a signal indicating the possible presence of an enemy submarine. They notified us that they would have to cut us loose and increase their speed and "zig zag" to avoid the submarine threat. We then witnessed an axe coming down on that big three-inch hemp rope that held us tethered to the transport. I will never forget that feeling of being separated from that ship. We had a tremendous sinking feeling watching our host ship pass out of sight, slowly fading away over the horizon. The troop transport told us before they left that they would take a sighting of our location and pass it on to Pearl so they could send an ocean-going tug back for us.
Fortunately, the seas were smooth, if only for a short time. The calmness of the sea helped our comfort tremendously. But we are just sitting there - going wherever the tide, winds and waves took us. We spent our days watching the horizon hoping to see that ocean-going tug coming after as - but no such luck! Days, then weeks, went by with no tug in sight nothing coming to our rescue.
During long hours watching the horizon, I began to reflect on how I managed to get myself lost in the middle of the Pacific. On the morning of December 7, 1941, my family and I had just come in from church and had one of my Mother's spectacular Sunday dinners. We were living in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I had recently completed my study in accounting at Bowling Green Business University, Bowling Green, Kentucky and was temporarily living with my parents and siblings. After that lunch, we were listening to the radio when the news was announced that Japan had struck Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii. We were, of course, in complete shock over this most disturbing news.
I was born on July 15, 1920 so I was about 21 years old and a prime candidate for the draft into the U.S. Army. Now I just love the U.S. Army, but for some reason I just did not want to be a foot soldier. I wanted to be one of those cute sailor boys. So early the next morning, December 8, 1941, I borrowed my Dad's car and drove to Memphis, Tennessee (about 75 miles) to join the United States Navy. When I arrived, there was a line of young men about four or five blocks long waiting to enter the Federal building to join the Navy. I could not believe what I was seeing so I followed the line into the building to make sure this was the "sign up" line for the Navy and not a line of folks waiting to pay more income taxes - or something. In the process of walking down those marble halls staring at that line of candidates I encountered a "Sandwich Sign" that was in the middle of the hallway with a picture of Uncle Sam pointing and saying "I Want You." I was still looking at the line and ran into that sign and sent it crashing to that marble floor. It scared me as much as it did anyone. I was down on my knees trying to correct my blunder when I noticed a uniformed Navy Officer staring down at me. I did not know whether to stand up and salute or just die on the spot - or both. But he reached down and helped me stand the sign back up and asked if I were there to join the Navy. I told him I was, but that long line was kind of turning me off. He said: "Have you given any thought to joining the United States Coast Guard?" I said no and that I had never even heard of this it. I asked him if joining the Coast Guard would keep me from being drafted into the Army. He assured me it would, So I enlisted in the Coast Guard - they had no line and I was the only one there. I was subsequently called to active duty on February 4, 1942.
I was sent to New York City and assigned to what was to become the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard Training Center but presently it was a summer beach facility on the shores of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y. They had no uniforms for us but that didn't stop them from giving me a hammer with instructions to start tearing down bath house cubicles to make way for the construction of the training center. I had been told when I enlisted that when I reported for active duty I was to wear "something nice" and not look like a "Hippie." So I had bought a brand-new suit, overcoat, shirt and tie and new shoes . . . I didn't look nice long doing this kind of work.
After doing this for about a month, an officer came to our unit one day and asked if anyone played a musical instrument. I had been told to never volunteer for anything while in the military, but I reluctantly raised my hand and announced that I played a piccolo in my high school band. He instructed me to follow him. I still did not have a uniform, so on my subway trip down to the district office, my tattered and torn "new" clothes gave me have the appearance of one of New York's finest dressed bums, but a new Coast Guard Band uniform awaited me at the office. So now I was a member of the United States Coast Guard Military Band. We played on the stages of all of the major theaters in New York City, including Radio City Music Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House. Our purpose was to encourage more enlistments in the U.S. Coast Guard. So now I was rubbing elbows with High Society instead of those rusty nails in those bathhouses. We had a class act but began attracting professional musicians who wanted to spend their military time in the Coast Guard Band. I just had the feeling that this country boy's days of playing High Society were about to come to a close. So the day came when I was informed that I would have to compete with one of these professional musicians for the one and only piccolo in the band. When I found out who my competition would be, I merely surrendered my piccolo to him and bowed out of the picture.
There was a delay in my ship's arrival in New Orleans but when it did arrive, I was shocked to see that it was 173 feet long and 30 feet wide which was much larger than the row boat I was expecting. After the mask was set and the ship tested and loaded with food and supplies, we took off from New Orleans to Cuba, then to Key West where we took on our depth charges, then to Miami for our ammunition and fire power, then through the Panama Canal, San Diego and on to Pearl Harbor. Of course, I have now learned all about P.C. boats. P.C. stands for Patrol Craft and it is not a boat but a ship. The P.C. ship is the only new ship design created by the Navy for World War II. Approximately 369 P.C. Ships were manufactured but during and after the war, all were either lost at sea, damaged, scrapped, or given to other countries. Two years after the war ended none were in the inventory of Navy ships. My P.C. ship was grounded and broke in half as the result of typhoon Louise that hit Okinawa in 1945. It met its demise on the reefs surrounding this island. Sound familiar? The primary purpose of the P.C. is for escort duty to relieve the destroyers so they can be more active in the fighting and combat arena. We not only have the fighting power for anti-aircraft warfare but fighting power for anti-submarine warfare as well. We have two 3" 50mm caliber mounted guns, three 20mm antiaircraft guns, and two large depth charge racks in the tail section of the ship. Enemy aircraft and submarines, should beware of us.
We began our protective escort duties by escorting large convoys of battleships, supply ships, tankers, troop transports, landing craft, LST's, etc. to the various battle areas in the South Pacific. We are on the outside fringes of the convoys "pinging" for stalking enemy submarines and ready for an air attack. The PC ships are known to be the roughest ships to sail on in the entire fleet -- rolling and pitching almost constantly. We put in for flight pay and submarine pay as we would literally sail through the air as we came off one of those horrendous waves and plunge underwater as we dove into the next oncoming wave. In climbing ladders (steps) on the ship, we would have to time our steps with the pitch and roll of the ship. It was impossible to stand still on deck and thank goodness for those life lines. If you bruise easily from banging against bulkheads and rails, a P.C. is not for you. We had no fresh water to shower with so we were real sailors and smelled the part. Of course, seasickness abounded. Although we were a small ship, we were one big fighting machine. So, for almost two years I spent life aboard this ship, and can proudly say that during that period we never lost one ship we were escorting. Our anti-aircraft guns were kept busy, and we were fortunate we did not blow ourselves up with the dropping of those highly explosive depth charges. I was a gunner on the No. 1 20mm gun on the Flying Bridge of the ship and as such was the first one to get to fire at an attacking aircraft. Ironically, I had never fired any kind of weapon in my life until I was shooting at Japanese aircraft aboard my ship. I did not have any boot camp training. I was too busy tearing down bathhouses, playing high society with the Coast Guard Band, and washing all of those dishes at the Merchant Marine Academy!
There were seven children in my family - six boys and one girl. Five of us served in different branches of the Armed Forces. My Dad was a farmer in the Mississippi Delta and served as County Agricultural Agent for Coahoma County, Mississippi. As farmers, we grew up in the country. We kids would often invite our school friends out over the weekend to play. Some would want to bring their BB guns or sling shots but my Dad would not allow any guns, not even BB guns or sling shots on the place for fear that one of us would shoot the other. Any gun, whether real or play, had to be checked at the "Saloon Door," so to speak. Since I received no training in firearms when I was growing up, shooting at the Japanese was my first time to fire a gun. I made sure, however, that the Japanese did not know that.
Back in the 1943 Pacific, a number of us were on deck still looking for that tug boat and praying that we didn't spot Tokyo Bay on the horizon. All of a sudden, a submarine surfaced along side! We were scared to death as we just knew it was a Japanese sub, but it was American - what a relief! They raised their American flag and I think it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen! Before recognizing it, we had all been scrambling to our battle stations. Fortunately, we saw who they were before any shots were fired.
So ends my tale of our Drifting At Sea episode. Bill Barnes Written: March 16, 2005
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June 6, 2000